Promise the Night

Written by Michaela MacColl
Review by Kristen Hannum

Anyone who has ever read the gorgeous West with the Night by Beryl Markham may doubt the need for a young adult novel written about the aviatrix’s early life. Within a few pages of Michaela MacColl’s new novel, however, even the most skeptical should be persuaded. Promise the Night tells the story of preteen, horse-loving, lion-hunting Beryl Clutterbuck, who became Beryl Markham, a woman bigger than life and who may well deserve as many books as Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Beryl’s parents moved from Britain to British East Africa (now Kenya) in 1906. Her mother soon fled back to Britain with Beryl’s brother. By 1912, as the book begins, Beryl has become a girl who manages to simultaneously exasperate and charm. Her father, a retired British Army captain, gives her freedom but demands toughness. His influence is checked by her tribal life – she basically runs wild with an African friend and learns respect and honor from his tribal point of view.

Patched in between chapters of this narrative is the story, told via news reports and the older Beryl’s diary, of her foolhardy and brave solo flight west across the Atlantic in 1936. The young Beryl makes a lot of embarrassing and even life-threatening mistakes, and MacColl does a masterful job of bringing those mistakes and their repercussions to life. MacColl also shows how no blunder, even the stupidest, shook Beryl’s supreme confidence in herself. (That by itself was worth the price of admission for this reader.)

MacColl offers a thoroughly modern and yet believable heroine for young readers, gives great period details that move the plot along, offers telling insights into Beryl’s youthful exploits, and provides a thoughtful list for further reading. Recommended.